Wedded Bliss for ‘Star’

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When MSN partnered with Mark Burnett Productions last summer to create exclusive online content for the first season of “Rock Star: Supernova,” the online portal squeaked by some nights publishing content a mere two minutes before the show ended on CBS or VH1.

That drop-dead deadline was a little too close for comfort.

But a year has indeed made a difference and now MSN has maneuvered at least a couple hours of breathing room after it finishes cutting and editing the Monday night online-only edition of “Rock Star” and supporting online content for the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of the show televised on CBS, said Rob Bennett, general manager of entertainment and video services for Microsoft’s MSN.

MSN and Mark Burnett Productions rejiggered their partnership this year to build MSN more seamlessly into the production of the summer talent search show. Time is of the essence for “Rock Star” because it’s shot two to three days before the episodes air each week on CBS.

Mark Burnett Productions shoots all three episodes. CBS airs the performance episode on Tuesdays and a results episode on Wednesdays. MSN then runs the reality episode on Mondays. That’s a change from last year, when the reality episode was banished from CBS to VH1 midseason.

Realistic Deadlines

To streamline the sharing process this season, Mark Burnett Productions created a system with realistic delivery times for the online content, said Lisa Hennessey, executive producer for the show. “When you look at the calendar, there are certain delivery days and times where you deliver material to the folks at MSN,” she said.

Both MSN and Mark Burnett Productions are keeping a close watch on the success of this new approach. The critical element to making the integration work is the constant cross-promotion, she said.

“You have to say it all the time and let people know,” she said. “[MSN] is promoted on all the shows and the performance episode says, `To see backstage and what happened after the rockers are done, go to MSN,”‘ she said.

That strategy appears to be paying off. The new season, which premiered July 3 on MSN and July 5 on CBS, has already generated a 260 percent increase in votes cast online in the first week of the show. In addition, MSN served 250 percent more streams in the first week of “Rock Star: Supernova” this summer compared to “Rock Star: INXS” last year.

On air, the Tuesday show this season is averaging a 2.8/8 in adults 18 to 49, down 7 percent from last year and on par in viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research numbers provided by CBS. The Wednesday show is averaging 2.2/7 in adults 18 to 49, up 16 percent from last year and up 29 percent in viewers. The network said the show is growing each week in the demo.

The progress the show has made this year in the online/on-air integration is noteworthy for several reasons. Online video has rocketed in both importance and usage in the last year, with most major broadband portals striking production deals. In addition to its work with “Rock Star,” MSN has linked up with production shop Reveille; AOL has a deal with Mr. Burnett as well; and Yahoo works with Michael Davies, who executive produced “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Tight Synergy

The MSN-Mark Burnett Productions partnership this year, however, is one of the most closely knit integrations between on-air and online. That’s because the on-air show regularly hands off viewers to the online network each week and vice versa, so each venue must drive the other each week. While nearly all TV shows have online extensions in some form, “Rock Star” is the rare breed to regularly air an episode in its entirety online-only.

The nuts and bolts of where to find the next episode-whether online or on-air-is a regular message in the show, Mr. Bennett said. “We talked early on to Mark Burnett about taking the full episode to an online audience and seeing how much we could create a cycle of driving viewership of online and on-air.”

Mr. Bennett said online traffic spikes when TV viewers are urged to vote online for which contestants should stay or go. This year, voting can be done online, within MSN messenger and on Verizon phones. In addition to the full reality episode, MSN also features behind-the-scenes content, extended footage, detailed information and photos of the contestants and blogs.

How to effectively move viewers back and forth between online and on-air is still an important issue for networks and portals to figure out, said Will Richmond, president of broadband research firm Broadband Directions. “`Rock Star’ does a good job in moving the ball forward,” he said. “Viewers have the best videos they can of the show on TV where there is a finite experience and then they surround it with a broadband experience that gives consumers a lot more hours than the overall TV program, which is the right way to use broadband.”

Giving the viewers the chance to get to know the rockers in a deeper way via the online episode builds attachment and investment in the show, and thus more reason to tune in both online an on-air, said Gary Gannaway, CEO of WorldNow, which powers video streaming for 175 local TV stations. “Watching the show online gives you more attachment and more reason to care and be more invested,” he said.

This season, the newly formed band Supernova band consists of Motley Cr%FC;e drummer Tommy Lee, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and bass player Jason Newsted from Metallica, which is looking for a lead singer.